Environmental Justice Research Paper

Guest Editors

Donna Green University of New South Wales
Jayajit Chakraborty University of Texas at El Paso

Synthesis and Review


Plan EJ 2014, a strategy to help integrate environmental justice into the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s day to day activities, marks the 20th anniversary of the US's formal recognition of the need to assess the environmental justice (EJ) implications of government programs, plans and activities. During this time considerable progress has been made in policy development and in legal outcomes, as well as in methodological approaches used to evaluate environmental injustice in the academic research literature. To examine and understand such transformations, this focus issue intends to provide an interdisciplinary forum for new conceptual, methodological, and empirical scholarship on EJ. It invites: (1) review papers or case studies reflecting on the endemic state of international EJ research with a focus on current directions in quantitative and interdisciplinary approaches; and (2) case studies that apply US-based EJ approaches to new geographic regions and locations.

This focus issue will adopt a broad-based definition of EJ research, including both the initial emphasis of EJ on environmental pollution and hazardous waste, as well as new forms of environmental injustices associated with resource depletion, energy use, climate change, and food systems. In the process, it will encompass the adverse consequences of environmental injustice for minority, indigenous, and economically disadvantaged communities, other vulnerable groups such as immigrant and linguistically isolated populations, as well as future generations.

Review papers and case studies may include: quantitative analysis of industrial pollution and related health hazards at the national and sub-national scale, intra-national equity concerns relating to Indigenous land management and resource use, and issues of climate and energy justice.

The majority of focus issue articles are invited, but unsolicited contributions are also encouraged. If you believe you have a suitable article in preparation please send your pre-submission query either to the journal publishing team erl@iop.org or to the Guest Editors of the issue listed above. All articles should be submitted using our online submission form.

The list below forms the complete collection.


Open access

Focus on environmental justice: new directions in international research

Jayajit Chakraborty 2017 Environ. Res. Lett.12 030201

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More than three decades since the emergence of the environmental justice (EJ) movement in the U.S., environmental injustices continue to unfold across the world to include new narratives of air and water pollution, as well as new forms of injustices associated with climate change, energy use, natural disasters, urban greenspaces, and public policies that adversely affect socially disadvantaged communities and future generations. This focus issue of Environmental Research Letters provides an interdisciplinary forum for conceptual, methodological, and empirical scholarship on EJ activism, research, and policy that highlights the continuing salience of an EJ perspective to understanding nature-society linkages. The 16 letters published in this focus issue address a variety of environmental issues and social injustices in multiple countries across the world, and advance EJ research by: (1) demonstrating how environmental injustice emerges through particular policies and political processes; (2) exploring environmental injustices associated with industrialization and industrial pollution; and (3) documenting unjust exposure to various environmental hazards in specific urban landscapes. As the discourse of EJ continues to evolve both topically and geographically, we hope that this focus issue will help establish research agendas for the next generation of EJ scholarship on distributive, procedural, participatory, and other forms of injustices, as well as their interrelationships.


Open access

Australians are not equally protected from industrial air pollution

B Dobbie and D Green 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 055001

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Australian air pollution standards are set at national and state levels for a number of chemicals harmful to human health. However, these standards do not need to be met when ad hoc pollution licences are issued by state environment agencies. This situation results in a highly unequal distribution of air pollution between towns and cities, and across the country. This paper examines these pollution regulations through two case studies, specifically considering the ability of the regulatory regime to protect human health from lead and sulphur dioxide pollution in the communities located around smelters. It also considers how the proposed National Clean Air Agreement, once enacted, might serve to reduce this pollution equity problem. Through the case studies we show that there are at least three discrete concerns relating to the current licencing system. They are: non-onerous emission thresholds for polluting industry; temporal averaging thresholds masking emission spikes; and ineffective penalties for breaching licence agreements. In conclusion, we propose a set of new, legally-binding national minimum standards for industrial air pollutants must be developed and enforced, which can only be modified by more (not less) stringent state licence arrangements.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/5/055001Cited byReferences

Open access

Environmental justice: a criminological perspective

Michael J Lynch et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 085008

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This article examines studies related to environmental justice in the criminological literature and from a criminological perspective. Criminologists have long been concerned with injustices in the criminal justice system related to the enforcement of criminal law. In the 1990s, following the emergence of green criminology, a handful of criminologists have drawn attention to environmental justice as an extension of more traditional criminological studies of justice and injustice. Relevant criminological studies of environmental justice are reviewed, and suggestions for future environmental justice research are offered.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/8/085008Cited byReferences

Open access

Household-level disparities in cancer risks from vehicular air pollution in Miami

Timothy W Collins et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 095008

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Environmental justice (EJ) research has relied on ecological analyses of socio-demographic data from areal units to determine if particular populations are disproportionately burdened by toxic risks. This article advances quantitative EJ research by (a) examining whether statistical associations found for geographic units translate to relationships at the household level; (b) testing alternative explanations for distributional injustices never before investigated; and (c) applying a novel statistical technique appropriate for geographically-clustered data. Our study makes these advances by using generalized estimating equations to examine distributive environmental inequities in the Miami (Florida) metropolitan area, based on primary household-level survey data and census block-level cancer risk estimates of hazardous air pollutant (HAP) exposure from on-road mobile emission sources. In addition to modeling determinants of on-road HAP cancer risk among all survey participants, two subgroup models are estimated to examine whether determinants of risk differ based on disadvantaged minority (Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black) versus non-Hispanic white racial/ethnic status. Results reveal multiple determinants of risk exposure disparities. In the model including all survey participants, renter-occupancy, Hispanic and non-Hispanic black race/ethnicity, the desire to live close to work/urban services or public transportation, and higher risk perception are associated with greater on-road HAP cancer risk; the desire to live in an amenity-rich environment is associated with less risk. Divergent subgroup model results shed light on the previously unexamined role of racial/ethnic status in shaping determinants of risk exposures. While lower socioeconomic status and higher risk perception predict significantly greater on-road HAP cancer risk among disadvantaged minorities, the desire to live near work/urban services or public transport predict significantly greater risk among non-Hispanic whites. Findings have important implications for EJ research and practice in Miami and elsewhere.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/9/095008Cited byReferences

Open access

Assessing the environmental justice consequences of flood risk: a case study in Miami, Florida

Marilyn C Montgomery and Jayajit Chakraborty 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 095010

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Recent environmental justice (EJ) research has emphasized the need to analyze social inequities in the distribution of natural hazards such as hurricanes and floods, and examine intra-ethnic diversity in patterns of EJ. This study contributes to the emerging EJ scholarship on exposure to flooding and ethnic heterogeneity by analyzing the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic characteristics of the population residing within coastal and inland flood risk zones in the Miami Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), Florida—one of the most ethnically diverse MSAs in the U.S. and one of the most hurricane-prone areas in the world. We examine coastal and inland flood zones separately because of differences in amenities such as water views and beach access. Instead of treating the Hispanic population as a homogenous group, we disaggregate the Hispanic category into relevant country-of-origin subgroups. Inequities in flood risk exposure are statistically analyzed using socio-demographic variables derived from the 2010 U.S. Census and 2007–2011 American Community Survey estimates, and 100-year flood risk zones from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Social vulnerability is represented with two neighborhood deprivation indices called economic insecurity and instability. We also analyze the presence of seasonal/vacation homes and proximity to public beach access sites as water-related amenity variables. Logistic regression modeling is utilized to estimate the odds of neighborhood-level exposure to coastal and inland 100-year flood risks. Results indicate that neighborhoods with greater percentages of non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, and Hispanic subgroups of Colombians and Puerto Ricans are exposed to inland flood risks in areas without water-related amenities, while Mexicans are inequitably exposed to coastal flood risks. Our findings demonstrate the importance of treating coastal and inland flood risks separately while controlling for water-related amenities, and recognizing intra-ethnic diversity within the Hispanic category to obtain a more comprehensive assessment of the social distribution of flood risks.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/9/095010Cited byReferences

Open access

Environmental injustice along the US–Mexico border: residential proximity to industrial parks in Tijuana, Mexico

Sara E Grineski et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 095012

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Research in the Global North (e.g., US, Europe) has revealed robust patterns of environmental injustice whereby low income and minority residents face exposure to industrial hazards in their neighborhoods. A small body of research suggests that patterns of environmental injustice may diverge between the Global North and South due to differing urban development trajectories. This study uses quantitative environmental justice methods to examine spatial relationships between residential socio-demographics and industrial parks in Tijuana, Baja California Norte, Mexico using 2010 census data for Tijuana’s 401 neighborhoods and municipality-provided locations of industrial parks in the city. Results of spatial lag regression models reveal that formal development is significantly associated with industrial park density, and it accounts for the significant effect of higher socioeconomic status (measured using mean education) on greater industrial density. Higher proportions of female-headed households are also significantly associated with industrial park density, while higher proportions of children and recent migrants are not. The formal development findings align with other studies in Mexico and point to the importance of urban development trajectories in shaping patterns of environmental injustice. The risks for female-headed households are novel in the Mexican context. One potential explanation is that women factory workers live near their places of employment. A second, albeit counterintuitive explanation, is the relative economic advantage experienced by female-headed households in Mexico.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/9/095012Cited byReferences

Open access

Evolution of the environmental justice movement: activism, formalization and differentiation

Alejandro Colsa Perez et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 105002

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To complement a recent flush of research on transnational environmental justice movements, we sought a deeper organizational history of what we understand as the contemporary environmental justice movement in the United States. We thus conducted in-depth interviews with 31 prominent environmental justice activists, scholars, and community leaders across the US. Today’s environmental justice groups have transitioned from specific local efforts to broader national and global mandates, and more sophisticated political, technological, and activist strategies. One of the most significant transformations has been the number of groups adopting formal legal status, and emerging as registered environmental justice organizations (REJOs) within complex partnerships. This article focuses on the emergence of REJOs, and describes the respondents’ views about the implications of this for more local grassroots groups. It reveals a central irony animating work across groups in today’s movement: legal formalization of many environmental justice organizations has made the movement increasingly internally differentiated, dynamic, and networked, even as the passage of actual national laws on environmental justice has proven elusive.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/10/105002Cited byReferences

Open access

Who benefits from environmental policy? An environmental justice analysis of air quality change in Britain, 2001–2011

Gordon Mitchell et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 105009

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Air quality in Great Britain has improved in recent years, but not enough to prevent the European Commission (EC) taking legal action for non-compliance with limit values. Air quality is a national public health concern, with disease burden associated with current air quality estimated at 29 000 premature deaths per year due to fine particulates, with a further burden due to NO 2. National small-area analyses showed that in 2001 poor air quality was much more prevalent in socio-economically deprived areas. We extend this social distribution of air quality analysis to consider how the distribution changed over the following decade (2001–2011), a period when significant efforts to meet EC air quality directive limits have been made, and air quality has improved. We find air quality improvement is greatest in the least deprived areas, whilst the most deprived areas bear a disproportionate and rising share of declining air quality including non-compliance with air quality standards. We discuss the implications for health inequalities, progress towards environmental justice, and compatibility of social justice and environmental sustainability objectives.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/10/105009Cited byReferences

Open access

'At-risk' places: inequities in the distribution of environmental stressors and prescription rates of mental health medications in Glasgow, Scotland

Juliana Maantay and Andrew Maroko 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 115003

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Using geospatial analytical methods, this study examines the association between one aspect of the built environment, namely, the concentration of vacant and derelict land (VDL), and the prevalence of mental health disorders (using the proxy variable of mental health medication prescription rates) in Glasgow, Scotland. This study builds on our previous research, which demonstrated the spatial correspondence between the locations of VDL in Glasgow and several physical health outcomes. Numerous studies of other locales have found similar correspondence between different elements of the built environment and various health outcomes. This is the first study of its kind to look at the spatial concentration of vacant and derelict land in relation to mental health, socio-economic indicators, environmental justice, and health inequities. The findings of this study demonstrate an inequity with respect to the distribution of vacant and derelict land, as confirmed by Pearson correlations between VDL density and deprivation ( r = .521, p < .001). This suggests that many deprived communities are disproportionately burdened with environmental impacts and psycho-social stressors associated with this land use. Regression analyses show a significant positive association between the proportion of the population who were prescribed medication for anxiety, depression, or psychosis and the density of vacant and derelict land while adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics. This indicates that areas with higher VDL densities tend to exhibit higher rates of mental health issues. Based on these findings, strategies for constructive re-use of VDL are proposed.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/11/115003Cited byReferences

Open access

Landscapes of thermal inequity: disproportionate exposure to urban heat in the three largest US cities

Bruce C Mitchell and Jayajit Chakraborty 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 115005

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Heat waves are the most significant cause of mortality in the US compared to other natural hazards. Prior studies have found increased heat exposure for individuals of lower socioeconomic status in several US cities, but few comparative analyses of the social distribution of urban heat have been conducted. To address this gap, our paper examines and compares the environmental justice consequences of urban heat risk in the three largest US cities: New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Risk to urban heat is estimated on the basis of three characteristics of the urban thermal landscape: land surface temperature, vegetation abundance, and structural density of the built urban environment. These variables are combined to develop an urban heat risk index, which is then statistically compared with social vulnerability indicators representing socioeconomic status, age, disability, race/ethnicity, and linguistic isolation. The results indicate a consistent and significant statistical association between lower socioeconomic and minority status and greater urban heat risk, in all three cities. Our findings support a growing body of environmental justice literature that indicates the presence of a landscape of thermal inequity in US cities and underscores the need to conduct comparative analyses of social inequities in exposure to urban heat.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/11/115005Cited byReferences

Open access

Which came first, people or pollution? Assessing the disparate siting and post-siting demographic change hypotheses of environmental injustice

Paul Mohai and Robin Saha 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 115008

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Although a large body of quantitative environmental justice research exists, only a handful of studies have examined the processes by which racial and socioeconomic disparities in the location of polluting industrial facilities can occur. These studies have had mixed results, we contend, principally because of methodological differences, that is, the use of the unit-hazard coincidence method as compared to distance-based methods. This study is the first national-level environmental justice study to conduct longitudinal analyses using distance-based methods. Our purposes are to: (1) determine whether disparate siting, post-siting demographic change, or a combination of the two created present-day disparities; (2) test related explanations; and (3) determine whether the application of distance-based methods helps resolve the inconsistent findings of previous research. We used a national database of commercial hazardous waste facilities sited from 1966 to 1995 and examined the demographic composition of host neighborhoods around the time of siting and demographic changes that occurred after siting. We found strong evidence of disparate siting for facilities sited in all time periods. Although we found some evidence of post-siting demographic changes, they were mostly a continuation of changes that occurred in the decade or two prior to siting, suggesting that neighborhood transition serves to attract noxious facilities rather than the facilities themselves attracting people of color and low income populations. Our findings help resolve inconsistencies among the longitudinal studies and builds on the evidence from other subnational studies that used distance-based methods. We conclude that racial discrimination and sociopolitical explanations (i.e., the proposition that siting decisions follow the ‘path of least resistance’) best explain present-day inequities.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/11/115008Cited byReferences

Open access

Which came first, people or pollution? A review of theory and evidence from longitudinal environmental justice studies

Paul Mohai and Robin Saha 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 125011

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A considerable number of quantitative analyses have been conducted in the past several decades that demonstrate the existence of racial and socioeconomic disparities in the distribution of a wide variety of environmental hazards. The vast majority of these have been cross-sectional, snapshot studies employing data on hazardous facilities and population characteristics at only one point in time. Although some limited hypotheses can be tested with cross-sectional data, fully understanding how present-day disparities come about requires longitudinal analyses that examine the demographic characteristics of sites at the time of facility siting and track demographic changes after siting. Relatively few such studies exist and those that do exist have often led to confusing and contradictory findings. In this paper we review the theoretical arguments, methods, findings, and conclusions drawn from existing longitudinal environmental justice studies. Our goal is to make sense of this literature and to identify the direction future research should take in order to resolve confusion and arrive at a clearer understanding of the processes and contributory factors by which present-day racial and socioeconomic disparities in the distribution of environmental hazards have come about. Such understandings also serve as an important step in identifying appropriate and effective societal responses to ameliorate environmental disparities.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/125011Cited byReferences

Open access

Can the capitalist economic system deliver environmental justice?

Karen Bell 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 125017

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Can a healthy environment for all social groups be delivered through capitalism via market mechanisms? Or is it the capitalist system, itself, that has been at the root of the environmental and social crises we now face? This letter engages with this ongoing debate by drawing on material from a wider study, ‘Achieving Environmental Justice’, which examined the extent, form and causes of environmental justice and injustice in a range of countries with varying depths of marketization—United States, South Korea, United Kingdom, Sweden, China, Bolivia and Cuba. The analysis described here focuses on the interview material from this mixed methods study, drawing on over 140 interviews with officials, policy makers, and civil society leaders. The letter argues that there is an apparent propensity for capitalist processes to exacerbate, rather than reduce, environmental problems and inequities though the pursuit of relentless economic growth and profit accumulation. Therefore, we should perhaps let go of efforts to resolve environmental injustice within the constraints of capitalism and, instead, build an alternative economic system that can meet human needs in the context of a harmonious and respectful relationship with nature.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/125017Cited byReferences

Open access

Linking 'toxic outliers' to environmental justice communities

Mary B Collins et al 2016 Environ. Res. Lett.11 015004

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Several key studies have found that a small minority of producers, polluting at levels far exceeding group averages, generate the majority of overall exposure to industrial toxics. Frequently, such patterns go unnoticed and are understudied outside of the academic community. To our knowledge, no research to date has systematically described the scope and extent of extreme variations in industrially based exposure estimates and sought to link inequities in harm produced to inequities in exposure. In an analysis of all permitted industrial facilities across the United States, we show that there exists a class of hyper-polluters—the worst-of-the-worst—that disproportionately expose communities of color and low income populations to chemical releases. This study hopes to move beyond a traditional environmental justice research frame, bringing new computational methods and perspectives aimed at the empirical study of societal power dynamics. Our findings suggest the possibility that substantial environmental gains may be made through selective environmental enforcement, rather than sweeping initiatives.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/11/1/015004Cited byReferences

Open access

Just fracking: a distributive environmental justice analysis of unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania, USA

Emily Clough and Derek Bell 2016 Environ. Res. Lett.11 025001

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This letter presents a distributive environmental justice analysis of unconventional gas development in the area of Pennsylvania lying over the Marcellus Shale, the largest shale gas formation in play in the United States. The extraction of shale gas using unconventional wells, which are hydraulically fractured (fracking), has increased dramatically since 2005. As the number of wells has grown, so have concerns about the potential public health effects on nearby communities. These concerns make shale gas development an environmental justice issue. This letter examines whether the hazards associated with proximity to wells and the economic benefits of shale gas production are fairly distributed. We distinguish two types of distributive environmental justice: traditional and benefit sharing. We ask the traditional question: are there a disproportionate number of minority or low-income residents in areas near to unconventional wells in Pennsylvania? However, we extend this analysis in two ways: we examine income distribution and level of education; and we compare before and after shale gas development. This contributes to discussions of benefit sharing by showing how the income distribution of the population has changed. We use a binary dasymetric technique to remap the data from the 2000 US Census and the 2009–2013 American Communities Survey and combine that data with a buffer containment analysis of unconventional wells to compare the characteristics of the population living nearer to unconventional wells with those further away before and after shale gas development. Our analysis indicates that there is no evidence of traditional distributive environmental injustice: there is not a disproportionate number of minority or low-income residents in areas near to unconventional wells. However, our analysis is consistent with the claim that there is benefit sharing distributive environmental injustice: the income distribution of the population nearer to shale gas wells has not been transformed since shale gas development.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/11/2/025001Cited byReferences

Open access

Could urban greening mitigate suburban thermal inequity?: the role of residents' dispositions and household practices

Jason Byrne et al 2016 Environ. Res. Lett.11 095014

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Over the past decade research on urban thermal inequity has grown, with a focus on denser built environments. In this letter we examine thermal inequity associated with climate change impacts and changes to urban form in a comparatively socio-economically disadvantaged Australian suburb. Local urban densification policies designed to counteract sprawl have reduced block sizes, increased height limits, and diminished urban tree canopy cover (UTC). Little attention has been given to the combined effects of lower UTC and increased heat on disadvantaged residents. Such impacts include rising energy expenditure to maintain thermal comfort (i.e. cooling dwellings). We used a survey of residents ( n = 230) to determine their perceptions of climate change impacts; household energy costs; household thermal comfort practices; and dispositions towards using green infrastructure to combat heat. Results suggest that while comparatively disadvantaged residents spend more on energy as a proportion of their income, they appear to have reduced capacity to adapt to climate change at the household scale. We found most residents favoured more urban greening and supported tree planting in local parks and streets. Findings have implications for policy responses aimed at achieving urban climate justice.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/11/9/095014Cited byReferences

Open access

Environmental justice implications of industrial hazardous waste generation in India: a national scale analysis

Pratyusha Basu and Jayajit Chakraborty 2016 Environ. Res. Lett.11 125001

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While rising air and water pollution have become issues of widespread public concern in India, the relationship between spatial distribution of environmental pollution and social disadvantage has received less attention. This lack of attention becomes particularly relevant in the context of industrial pollution, as India continues to pursue industrial development policies without sufficient regard to its adverse social impacts. This letter examines industrial pollution in India from an environmental justice (EJ) perspective by presenting a national scale study of social inequities in the distribution of industrial hazardous waste generation. Our analysis connects district-level data from the 2009 National Inventory of Hazardous Waste Generating Industries with variables representing urbanization, social disadvantage, and socioeconomic status from the 2011 Census of India. Our results indicate that more urbanized and densely populated districts with a higher proportion of socially and economically disadvantaged residents are significantly more likely to generate hazardous waste. The quantity of hazardous waste generated is significantly higher in more urbanized but sparsely populated districts with a higher proportion of economically disadvantaged households, after accounting for other relevant explanatory factors such as literacy and social disadvantage. These findings underscore the growing need to incorporate EJ considerations in future industrial development and waste management in India.

https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/11/12/125001Cited byReferences

Environmental justice (EJ) research seeks to document and redress the disproportionate environmental burdens and benefits associated with social inequalities. Although its initial focus was on anthropogenic pollution, the scope of EJ research has expanded significantly in recent years to encompass other phenomena—for example, access to healthful food and climate change—with disparate negative impacts on particular social groups. Dimensions of social inequality examined have expanded beyond race and socioeconomic status to focus to some degree on ethnicity, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, age, as well as intersections between dimensions of inequality. In the context of intensifying social inequalities and environmental problems, there is a need to further strengthen the EJ research framework and diversify its application. This Special Issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH) incorporates 19 articles that collectively advance EJ scholarship in conceptual, methodological, and empirical terms.

These articles demonstrate how the scope and purpose of EJ research have broadened significantly in recent years and continue to expand in new directions, both topically and geographically. Several articles in this Special Issue break new ground by extending the EJ research framework to consider emerging issues such as energy [1,2], food [3], drinking water [4,5], flooding [6,7], sustainability initiatives [8,9], and gender dynamics [10], including EJ concerns in Canada [5,11], the UK [12], and Eastern Europe [13]. Finley-Brook and Holloman [1] explore the EJ implications of energy production in the U.S. Their study demonstrates how the transition from high carbon energy sources such as coal and oil contribute to environmental injustices, and proposes priorities for a new energy justice research agenda that combines advocacy, activism, and academics. Kyne and Bolin [2] focus on nuclear hazards associated with both the U.S. weapons programs and civilian nuclear power. Their article argues that nuclear power plants, uranium mining, and waste disposal raise a variety of EJ issues that encompass distributive, procedural, recognition, and intergenerational justice. Carrel et al. [3] examine the EJ impacts of animal feeding operations in Iowa, USA. Their findings underscore the need to understand the structural, political, and economic factors that create an environmentally unjust landscape for swine production in the U.S. Midwest. Galway [4] investigates access to safe and reliable drinking water in First Nations communities in Ontario, Canada, based on drinking water advisory data. The study highlights the prevalence of drinking water advisories as a growing problem that needs to be addressed. Campbell et al. [5] focus on the governmental failures in treating the municipal water system that led to the poisoning of hundreds of children and adults in Flint, Michigan, USA, and discuss how such tragic events can be prevented in the future. Maldonado et al. [6] examine if Hispanic immigrants are disproportionately exposed to flood hazards compared to other racial/ethnic groups in the Houston and Miami metropolitan areas, USA, based on household-level survey data. Their divergent findings for these two urban areas suggest that future EJ research on flooding should distinguish between Hispanic subgroups based on nativity status and other local contextual factors. Muñoz and Tate [7] focus on the EJ consequences of disaster recovery, based on a case study of three communities in Iowa, USA, that were affected by severe flooding in 2008. Their analysis of the two federal programs that funded property acquisitions indicated that households in socially vulnerable areas were less likely to obtain full financial compensation and endured longer waiting periods before receiving acquisition funds. Jennings et al. [8] examine another emerging issue in EJ research: advancing sustainability by ensuring that urban ecosystem services and related health benefits are equally distributed across all population groups. Their article integrates complementary concepts from multiple disciplines to illustrate how cultural ecosystem services from urban green spaces are associated with equity and social determinants of health. Hornik et al. [9] explore how people conceptualize the connection between EJ and sustainability, based on analyzing stakeholder perspectives in Milwaukee, WI, USA. Bell [10] addresses an important gap in prior EJ research by providing a gender perspective and exploring women’s experience of EJ, based on a review of the existing literature and her own prior experiences as a scholar and activist. Bell’s analysis confirms that women tend to experience inequitable environmental burdens and are less likely than men to have control over environmental decisions, both of which lead to disproportionate health impacts.

In addition to broadening the scope of EJ scholarship by exploring these new frontiers, our Special Issue contributes to three specific research themes: (a) documenting connections between unjust environmental exposures and health impacts; (b) promoting and achieving EJ; and (c) clarifying stakeholder perceptions of EJ issues. These themes and related articles are described below.

Documenting connections between unjust environmental exposures and health impacts: As the EJ framework has expanded in new directions, recent research has emphasized the need to examine health outcomes and health disparities associated with exposure to environmental hazards, thus extending EJ to environmental health justice. Several articles in this Special Issue advance environmental health justice scholarship by documenting linkages between unequal environmental exposure and adverse health impacts associated with unsafe infrastructure and homes [5,14], substance use and addiction [15], and children’s obesity and academic performance [16]. Campbell et al. [5] provide a detailed assessment of the recent drinking water crisis and lead poisoning in Flint, USA. In addition to describing how this tragedy happened and why socially disadvantaged populations are at particularly high risk for lead exposure, Campbell et al. discuss how childhood lead exposure and Flint-like events can be prevented from occurring in the future. Mankikar et al. [14] examine whether participation in a two-month long environmental education intervention program reduces exposure to homebased environmental health hazards and asthma-related medical visits. Their home intervention program in southeastern Pennsylvania, USA, focused on low-income households where children had asthma, were at risk for lead poisoning, or faced multiple unsafe housing conditions. Cleaning supplies (e.g., a microfiber cloth, soap), safety supplies (e.g., CO detector, fire alarm) and pest management tools (e.g., caulk, roach bait) were provided along with educational materials and face-to-face instruction. Their findings indicate that low-cost comprehensive home interventions are effective in reducing environmental home hazards and improve the health of asthmatic children in the short term. Mennis et al.’s [15] review article seeks to extend EJ research by including environmental factors influencing substance use disorders—one of the most pressing global public health problems. They demonstrate why inequities in risky substance use environments should be considered as an EJ issue and conclude that future research needs to examine where, why, and how inequities in risky substance use environments occur, the implications of such inequities for disparities in substance use disorders and treatment outcomes, and the implications for tobacco, alcohol, and drug policies as well as prevention and treatment programs. Clark-Reyna et al. [16] focus on chemicals known as metabolic disruptors that are of specific concern to children’s health and development. Their article examines the effect of residential concentrations of metabolic disrupting chemicals on children’s school performance in El Paso, Texas, USA. Results indicate that concentrations of metabolic disruptors are significantly associated with lower grade point averages directly and indirectly through body mass index. Findings from this study have important implications for future EJ research and chemical policy reform in the U.S.

Promoting and achieving EJ: While EJ scholars often focus on describing the injustices experienced by socially disadvantaged communities, several articles in this Special Issue direct attention toward efforts to achieve EJ through implementation of interventions to improve environmental knowledge and health [14,17], identification of avenues for sustainable and just community and societal change [1,8,9,13], and incorporation of EJ metrics in government programs [12]. In the area of interventions, Ramirez-Andreotta et al. [17] examine parental perceptions of the “report back” process after an exposure assessment. Results showed that parents coped with their challenging circumstances using data and that they made changes to reduce children’s exposure to contaminants. The findings suggest that providing information to EJ community members could be an effective strategy to reduce exposure, when immediate wider scale remediation is not possible. While Mankikar et al. [14] was summarized above, what is relevant here is that low income communities disproportionately face challenges from poor quality housing, especially renters. The promise of the type of intervention conducted by Mankikar et al. for achieving EJ is that it works to improve the environmental health of children. In terms of identifying avenues for change, Hornik et al. [9] examine stakeholder beliefs about how positive change should be made to ameliorate injustices related to water pollution in Milwaukee, WI, USA. In order to work towards EJ, the authors argue that is important to build mutual understanding among stakeholders and acknowledge the potential for complex interactions across scales of governance in order to mitigate conflicts. Related to avenues for achieving EJ, Finley-Brook and Holloman [1] emphasize the importance of involving communities in the participatory design of solutions and fairly distributing benefits. The energy case studies they review suggest that empowering approaches are feasible, but also highlight the potential for conflict between what is “green” and what is “just”. Petrescu-Mag et al. [13] explore EJ issues in a Roma community in Romania beset by environmental challenges associated with a landfill. Researchers engaged community residents in discussions about potential action options, and residents strongly preferred improving local on-site living opportunities at the dump. An examination of the process of selecting this option suggests that negotiations among stakeholders are required in order to begin to address environmental injustices. Jennings et al. [8] argue that it is critical for all communities to have access to cultural ecosystem services that influence social determinants of health in order to achieve health equity and promote physical and psychological well-being. Taking a different approach, Fairburn et al. [12] trace the development and diffusion of indices of multiple deprivation (IMD). EJ scholars have impacted public policy through the incorporation of environmental data into IMD in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and evidence suggests that IMD are potential catalysts for EJ as they enable decision-makers to make more equitable decisions.

Clarifying stakeholder perceptions of EJ issues: The EJ research framework has focused on objectively documenting conditions and processes that constitute environmental injustices. Based on this materialist foundation, less emphasis in EJ research has been placed on people’s subjectivities. Several articles in this Special Issue advance EJ research by examining and clarifying stakeholder subjectivities regarding EJ issues [9,11,18,19], which extends the research framework beyond the documentation of unjust conditions and processes. In Hornik et al.’s [9] study, which clarifies community group perceptions of EJ in the context of water sustainability initiatives in Milwaukee, WI, USA, stakeholders shared similar perspectives on environmental injustice as an everyday experience. However, they had divergent perspectives on how environmental injustices are produced and most effectively redressed, which has implications for promoting initiatives for EJ and sustainability. Teixeira and Zuberi [18] examine neighborhood perceptions of environmental health hazards among black youth in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Youth identified the intersection of race and poverty, poor waste management, housing abandonment, and crime as salient neighborhood environmental concerns, and understood correctly (based on the authors’ analysis of secondary spatial data) that black vs. white neighborhoods in the city are characterized by unequal environments. Findings suggest that environmental conditions provide clearly recognizable indicators of injustice for youth, and, furthermore, that youth interpret the lack of response to unjust conditions to imply that no one cares. Songsore and Buzzelli [11] examine the role of Ontario, Canada media in amplifying people’s perceptions of wind energy development (WED) health risks and injustices. Scientific evidence for negative health effects of wind turbines is contested, yet provincial media legitimated concerns about serious health impacts, which amplified public health risk perceptions and aroused claims of procedural injustice regarding the lack of community participation in Ontario’s WED process. Findings highlight the importance of media in shaping perceptions of environmental injustice, and reveal how public perceptions of injustice may be cultivated to impede societal transitions toward renewable energy sources. Ard et al. [19] use multilevel models in a US national study of the roles of neighborhood social capital and exposure to industrial air pollution in explaining the racial gap in self-rated health between black, Hispanic, and white individuals. They found that individuals’ feelings of trust in neighbors of different social standing and perceptions of political empowerment largely accounted for lower self-rated health among African Americans (and partially accounted for it among Hispanics) relative to whites, while exposure to industrial air pollution was statistically irrelevant. Results suggest that people’s perceptions of well-being may be shaped largely by their social contexts, and that harmful environmental exposures may not always be of paramount importance in shaping those perceptions. Taken together, these articles underscore how people’s subjectivities deeply matter: they influence which phenomena are contested as EJ issues and condition possibilities for redressing environmentally unjust arrangements.

The wide array of environmental health hazards, communities, and countries represented in this Special Issue reflect the expanding scope and purpose of EJ research, which has broadened and transformed significantly in recent years. The articles cover topics ranging from energy, food, water, obesogenic chemicals, landfills, and greenspace. They document connections between unjust environmental exposures and health impacts; provide ideas for how to promote and achieve EJ; and clarify stakeholder perceptions of EJ issues. In doing so, the Special Issue illustrates the existence of multiple and compounding marginalities, but also the wide variety of approaches being employed to achieve EJ, in its many diverse forms.


1. Finley-Brook M., Holloman E. Empowering Energy Justice. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:926 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13090926.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

2. Kyne D., Bolin B. Emerging Environmental Justice Issues in Nuclear Power and Radioactive Contamination. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:700 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13070700.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

3. Carrel M., Young S., Tate E. Pigs in Space: Determining the Environmental Justice Landscape of Swine Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Iowa. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:849 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13090849.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

4. Galway L. Boiling over: A Descriptive Analysis of Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations Communities in Ontario, Canada. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:505 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13050505.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

5. Campbell C., Greenberg R., Mankikar D., Ross R. A Case Study of Environmental Injustice: The Failure in Flint. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:951 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13100951.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

6. Maldonado A., Collins T., Grineski S., Chakraborty J. Exposure to Flood Hazards in Miami and Houston: Are Hispanic Immigrants at Greater Risk than Other Social Groups? Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:775 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13080775.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

7. Muñoz C., Tate E. Unequal Recovery? Federal Resource Distribution after a Midwest Flood Disaster. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:507 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13050507.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

8. Jennings V., Larson L., Yun J. Advancing Sustainability through Urban Green Space: Cultural Ecosystem Services, Equity, and Social Determinants of Health. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:196 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13020196.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

9. Hornik K., Cutts B., Greenlee A. Community Theories of Change: Linking Environmental Justice to Sustainability through Stakeholder Perceptions in Milwaukee (WI, USA) Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:979 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13100979.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

10. Bell K. Bread and Roses: A Gender Perspective on Environmental Justice and Public Health. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:1005 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13101005.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

11. Songsore E., Buzzelli M. Ontario’s Experience of Wind Energy Development as Seen through the Lens of Human Health and Environmental Justice. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:684 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13070684.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

12. Fairburn J., Maier W., Braubach M. Incorporating Environmental Justice into Second Generation Indices of Multiple Deprivation: Lessons from the UK and Progress Internationally. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:750 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13080750.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

13. Petrescu-Mag R., Petrescu D., Oroian I., Safirescu O., Bican-Brișan N. Environmental Equity through Negotiation: A Case Study on Urban Landfills and the Roma Community. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:591 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13060591.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

14. Mankikar D., Campbell C., Greenberg R. Evaluation of a Home-Based Environmental and Educational Intervention to Improve Health in Vulnerable Households: Southeastern Pennsylvania Lead and Healthy Homes Program. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:900 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13090900.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

15. Mennis J., Stahler G., Mason M. Risky Substance Use Environments and Addiction: A New Frontier for Environmental Justice Research. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:607 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13060607.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

16. Clark-Reyna S., Grineski S., Collins T. Ambient Concentrations of Metabolic Disrupting Chemicals and Children’s Academic Achievement in El Paso, Texas. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:874 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13090874.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

17. Ramirez-Andreotta M., Brody J., Lothrop N., Loh M., Beamer P., Brown P. Improving Environmental Health Literacy and Justice through Environmental Exposure Results Communication. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:690 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13070690.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

18. Teixeira S., Zuberi A. Mapping the Racial Inequality in Place: Using Youth Perceptions to Identify Unequal Exposure to Neighborhood Environmental Hazards. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:844 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13090844.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

19. Ard K., Colen C., Becerra M., Velez T. Two Mechanisms: The Role of Social Capital and Industrial Pollution Exposure in Explaining Racial Disparities in Self-Rated Health. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13:1025 doi: 10.3390/ijerph13101025.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]

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